Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) made its presence known to Las Vegas, Nevada, last night (Sat., July 6, 2019) for UFC 239. Despite being promoted as the biggest event of the year, much of the card’s interest was actually outside of the two title fights that topped the show — both of which seemed to be mismatches. However, the grudge match of Masvidal vs. Askren and Luke Rockhold’s Light Heavyweight debut, along with a pretty stacked undercard, definitely guaranteed a fun night of fights.
Let’s take a look at the best techniques and performances of the night!
The Methodical King
Jon Jones dealt with real adversity last night.
Thiago Santos ripped into his thigh and calf. He did real damage to Jones’ legs. Whenever Jones really committed to a punch or stepped in, Santos would flurry forward with a series of dangerous punches, some of which connected. Despite the damage, Jones never diverted from his strategy.
“Bones” applied consistent pressure from the first bell. He rarely stepped forward with combinations. Instead, Jones relied on pure trickery. He juked and jived with hips, dipped into his deep arsenal of kicks, and consistently surprised Santos with what angle or target that the shin or foot slammed into. Interestingly, Jones never really looked for the takedown, nor did he ever let loose with his hands. He stuck strictly to jabs and elbows in that regard.
He followed the gameplan, one of the many reasons Jones is so great.
At the same time, it’s a real bummer that Santos hurt his knee so early in the fight. Even with his injury, Santos kept the fight extremely close, winning the fight on one scorecard. Late in the fight, Santos was still landing hard shots. Perhaps most important, Santos was not intimidated by Jones — that’s half the battle already.
Run it back! There’s no one else unless Jones is willing to move to Heavyweight.
The WMMA GOAT
Amanda Nunes outclassed Holly Holm last night.
In the opening minute, the exchanges were close. Holm’s intercepting kicks were landing decently, and she managed to land a couple decent counter punches as Nunes swung big with her right hand. Once Nunes settled down though, it was no longer a competition. As Holm burst forward, Nunes began to connect on the counter. The low kicks stopped connecting as often. Then, Nunes was landing her own power shots on the lead.
It was clear that Nunes had her opponent’s timing down, and the end seemed imminent. The actual knockout was brilliance: Holm’s only success was really that linear kick to the knee. Nunes waited for it and pulled her leg aside, causing Holm to pull back the kick. While Holm’s leg was still in the air, Nunes fired a high kick to brutally counter Holm’s signature weapon.
Who can stop this woman?
Ben Askren and Jorge Masvidal jabbed at each other verbally for months leading up to their contest, yet the fight itself ended quicker than one could say, “BOOM, Roasted!”
Masvidal’s flying knee was absolutely a thing of beauty. It only took maybe two seconds for Masvidal to separate Askren from his consciousness, but he still set up the finishing blow. When the ref began the bout, Masvidal sauntered forward so casually, almost lazily that no one could expect what was coming. Meanwhile, Askren hustled to the center. Masvidal switched in an instant, exploding from his pimp walk into an absolute kill shot.
It’s one of the most violent knockouts ever (watch it here!).
Masvidal is a man I’ve loved watching fight for many years now. Always, he came up just short in pivotal moments, losing lots of arguable split-decisions that kept him away from the crown. At 34 years of age and 16 years into his professional career, Masvidal is truly hitting his prime ... and it’s lovely to see.
As for Askren, this feels like an absolutely massive blow to his chances at ever fighting for a UFC title. He may have officially won his debut opposite Robbie Lawler, but Askren was briefly put to sleep in that fight as well. Even if he can eventually recover from this setback, these two fights have served as an incredibly violent introduction to elite Welterweight competition.
The End of ‘El Nino’
At 37 years of age, former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez returned to the Octagon for the first time in nearly two years. He took on Arnold Allen, a top prospect more than 10 years younger than the veteran.
For about two minutes, Melendez was aggressive and controlled the center. Looking to land his right hand, Melendez threw in combination and stalked his opponent. Despite all the offense, Melendez didn’t land much. When Allen turned it up at about the midway point in the round, his speed advantage was immediately clear.
“Almighty” Allen took control and never let go. He threw great combinations, targeted the body wonderfully, and broke down Melendez’s lead leg. It was an impressive performance from the Englishman.
Moving back to Melendez, however, his frustrations were very clear — the longtime Lightweight great just doesn’t have it anymore. In hindsight, it makes sense why Melendez struggled so heavily as he aged. Even in his prime, Melendez was not a technical master in any one area. He was skilled in every range, but Melendez defeated most of his opponents due to physical attributes: a deep gas tank, grit, great speed, an iron jaw, and excellent instincts were the virtues of “El Niño” for most of his career.
Father Time slowly stole those traits, and now Melendez just doesn’t have much left.
Another Bantamweight Contender
Song Yadong picked up his fourth UFC victory last night.
It all came together for “The Kung Fu Monkey.” Against his most dangerous opponent yet, Yadong moved well and struck quickly, landing power shots each time Alejandro Perez attempted to engage. He made a legitimate fighter look slow, as Perez seemingly couldn’t connect with a punch. When Perez stepped deep into a low kick attempt, Yadong countered with a perfectly timed right hand that shut off the lights (watch highlights here!).
Though he’s almost definitely a few years older than his reported age of 21, Yadong proved himself a contender. Simply put, Yadong is an absolute athlete. The man is lightning fast and incredibly physically strong at 135 pounds. Equally vital is Yadong’s wealth of experience inside the cage — the young fighter already competes with great patience.
Yadong first trained at Team Alpha Male just before his UFC debut, and he immediately raised eyebrows. Without any wrestling experience, Yadong held his own on the mat with larger, decorated wrestlers and UFC veterans like Darren Elkins. His improvement since that time has been dramatic, and it really does seem that the sky is the limit for him.
- Jan Blachowicz defeats Luke Rockhold via second-round knockout (recap): This was not a close fight. Blachowicz seemed very prepared for Rockhold, ready to block his powerful left kick and deny his takedowns from the clinch. Back in the open, Blachowicz found great success by digging into Rockhold’s calf and countering his punches. In the clinch, Blachowicz found his best success, cracking Rockhold with elbows and eventually scoring the knockout on the break with a nasty left hook. It’s an amazing win for Blachowicz, who is back in title contention. Rockhold, meanwhile, seems to have regressed from his last fight, in which he showed some actual improvement to his boxing.
- Marlon Vera defeats Nohelin Hernandez via second-round rear naked choke (watch highlights): Vera is a very odd fighter in terms of tempo. He’s a definite finisher, but “Chito” has strange periods of inactivity where he does very little or allows his opponent to touch him up. That trait was definitely present last night, as Hernandez battered Vera from top position in the final 30 seconds of the first round and controlled him quite a bit in the second as well. When Vera turns it up, however, he’s a seriously dangerous man. In this bout, his transition from flying knee, takedown reversal, and then rear naked choke was quite smooth. He also had a slick back take in the first round, where he caught a kick and slipped in a hook before Hernandez had even hit the mat.
- Edmen Shahbazyan defeats Jack Marshman via first-round rear naked choke (watch highlights): At 21 years of age, Shahbazyan is already very much the real deal. To secure his third win in three trips to the Octagon, the boxer quickly changed levels into a single leg to dump his more experienced foe to the mat. From top position, Shahbazyan immediately unleashed a barrage of punches that forced Marshman to desperately give up his back in an attempt to escape. Instead, Shahbazyan jumped on his back and strangled him — all in 72 seconds!